Patrick M. Faller
Us guys committed little crimes to escape the rainy-day feeling of ranch house after ranch house. In March, we’d write notes on the backs of local postcards—a barn under sunset; frozen water beneath a bridge—and mail them out pell-mell to older folks.
The world hasn’t stopped spinning without you in it!
Throughout July, the swollen crab apples we’d chuck sauced the windshields of beater cars jammed into parking spots at the Normandy Ridge—reminders to the fuck-ups living on minimum and screwing in dirty beds of what value could be found in cleaning up after a rut.
Into August and September, we’d catch minnows and rock bass and hook them to 3/0-gauge hooks as bait for the bigger bass lurking in shady pools along the river’s edge.
And for the long winter, the gas station adjacent to the court house employed a guy who turned his back to make change while we stuffed our jackets full of cheap cigarettes from the sales display. After the cooks and servers had gone home, we’d leave the dirty pans soaking and smoke like forgotten diners in the darkened dining room, watching through grimy bay glass as the rest of town cruised by.
That job bought one of us his first car. And, because he was scrawnier than the rest of us, he nearly went broke souping up that black Civic hatchback’s stereo to bring a girl—so went the joke— to orgasm.
He never planned to roll his baby five times across a wheat field, but thank God he did, and was lucky to live through the experience; otherwise we’d’ve lost our way out of that hands-in-your-pockets-standing-in-damp-clothes feeling of day after day.
“Shape of a man,” we’d say. “And just look at his wiry arms! Thinner than ours!”
Lucky Jim, we called him, when he told us night after night, over a table of empty plastic cups stretched across the garage floor, what it was like crawling out of the wreckage, scratched and shaking but alive. The particulars changed with each telling; sometimes he renamed wounds we all knew were older than the accident. The white worm crawling from mid-forearm to wrist, for example, became one time the price he'd paid for escaping the twisted metal cage. Another time he recast that same pale stripe as a scar of simple negligence—the result of his reaching to retrieve a book that had slipped to the floor.
Of course, we knew the real cause of the scar. And he knew we knew. That was the joke. For us it wasn’t any different from stretching the length of a fish that had leapt free of our grasp, or tearing up the postcards that always came back to us covered with the illegible scratchings of the elderly.
My wife and I have this plant with green, spearhead-shaped leaves, which we’ve kept now several years. It has grown so large over that time we’ve had to divide it into two pots. One rests on the edge of a bookcase while the other sits on top a filing cabinet in our home.
The plant came as part of a floral arrangement my mother’s sister had received from one of the many friends and acquaintances wishing to commemorate the passing of her husband, my uncle, who left us much before his time. At the time, my aunt had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of arrangements she’d received and had given one to each of her nieces and nephews as gifts of a sort. Whether she meant it to or not, her gift has impacted me in subtle, profound ways. Other plants have come to join these green, spear-shaped ones, both inside and out. Around our house these past two springs, marigolds, alyssum, and petunias have bloomed. In tending to these plants—observing how much water to give, when to fertilize, when and how to trim and clean each plant—I’ve learned that attentiveness inspires affection, and that affection becomes infectious.
Recently my cousin claimed to have felt her father’s presence at her daughter’s birth, and again at her daughter’s one-year birthday party. This seems to me to be very much in keeping with the man’s values. He’d not have missed such things for the world. While the flowers in the arrangement my aunt gave us didn’t last, the thriving green plants with the spearhead-shaped leaves serve as reminders of the man’s generosity, his sense of devotion, and his deep affection for others.